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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

what’s your favorite word that we use today with a different meaning than it used to have?

The word geek used to mean “a sideshow entertainer who performs outrageous acts”:


Then it morphed into something like “a socially awkward person who enjoys computers and science fiction”:


And then it got cool and went mainstream:


As Mr. Spock might say, “Fascinating.”

What’s your favorite word that we use today with a different meaning than it used to have?

If you need some inspiration, Daily Kos has a long post with a wonderful list of words whose meanings have changed, some long before the modern era.

Apart from the evolution of geek, I kind of love how friend has become a verb: that’s a nice, er, friendly expansion of the word (though of course it’s still in use as a noun, too).

Your turn…

Thanks to bronxbee for suggesting the question.

(If you have a suggestion for a Question, feel free to email me.)


  • Bluejay

    Not sure that I have a favorite such word, but I do find it fascinating (and sometimes amusing) to see word meanings change in real time, and to keep the old meaning in my head when people use a word in new ways.

    Enormity used to mean something extremely terrible and morally wrong: “the enormity of the Holocaust.” Nowadays people seem to use it just to mean “hugeness.” When someone says “I just realized the enormity of my new job,” she probably means she has a big job with a lot of responsibilities, not that she’s been hired to smash in the heads of newborn puppies.

    I’ve also noticed some instances of people using “infamous” to mean “really famous.” Maybe people are starting to embrace Martin Short’s definition with an utter lack of irony.

  • RogerBW

    “Geek” just means a marketing category now.

    I’m quite fond of the way “conversation” and “intercourse” swapped meanings some time in the 1800s. (Thus “criminal conversation”, meaning adultery.)

  • Linda Vincent

    The same as the word “friend” became a verb now; the word “like” became a noun. :) “This post has 100 likes”. And the word “share” is a noun too but not a commercial one,but social.

    On the side note, there a cool startup called favoritewords.com, where you can add the words you like and the reasons why you like them and then, let’s say in 10 years, see what’s changed in their meanings for you personally and maybe globally too.

  • Tonio Kruger

    “Classic” used to mean an old movie that was usually very good. Then they started using that term to describe films like Elf

  • beccity98

    Didn’t genre used to mean a particular type of (whatever-music, movie, art, etc) Like Sci-fi’s and rom-coms are two different genres, right? I’ve mentioned this before, I know, but it still annoys me. I keep hearing people say things like, ‘If you’re a fan of genre…” Which freaking genre?! I’m pretty sure all people (except hermits) are fans of some kind of genre. Has it now come to just mean the sci-fi/fantasy genre?

    On another note, my hubs sometimes makes up his own words. And not on purpose, I think he thinks they are real words. And they usually sound close to what the actual word is. The only one I can think of right now is his variation of ‘agreement’. He’ll say “Are we in agreeance?” There’s also something about the way he uses ‘sustenance’ that I think is wrong. This is courtesy of his grandmother, who would quite often use a word that sounded similar to another, instead of the correct word. And it’s a bit frustrating, as I take things a bit literally, and can’t just be silent when someone uses the wrong words.

  • Danielm80

    I think “genre” is meant to be a catch-all term for any type of pop culture that (supposedly) isn’t accepted by the mainstream. Slasher movies, martial arts films, anime, and Sherlock would all be considered “genre,” even if they’re not science-fiction or fantasy. It’s easier to say “genre” than “anything that has a panel at ComicCon.”

  • RogerBW

    I first met it to mean “things that are beneath my notice as a Serious Critic” and I think it often still gets used that way.

  • Bluejay

    “Agreeance” is a word. Obviously your husband is a time-traveler from the 1500’s. Or Australian. Or Fred Durst. ;-)

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